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Research Spending

6. Mr. Strang : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much he expects to spend in the current year on agriculture and food research at current prices.

Mr. Gummer : My Department plans to spend £100 million on research and development in the areas of agriculture and food in this current year.

Mr. Strang : Does the Minister acknowledge the important contribution made by Government-funded agricultural research in the huge increases in self-sufficiency achieved by the industry in the past 20 years? Does he recognise that when it comes to some of the modern health and environmental problems of intensive agriculture, Government-funded research, as opposed to commercially-funded research, is more important then ever? Against that background, is it not time that the Government reversed their policy of cutting agricultural research, as the Minister knows not only that the figure that he announced this afternoon is less in real terms than what the Government spent last year but that the Government have cut spending by 30 per cent. in the past 10 years?

Mr. Gummer : I agree entirely with the purpose of Government spending in this matter. We are spending the necessary money on the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am not prepared to spend money on matters that should be paid for by those who will get immediate commercial results from it. The industry should pay that. I am paying money for food safety, food protection and the development of less harmful pesticides, for example--the kinds of things that we can use to improve the environment. All those things have a public interest, such as medium and long-term research. That is what I should be spending money on. In those matters I have been able to increase our spending. That seems to be a proper use of Government money.

Mr. Hind : Will my right hon. Friend spend a small amount of the money that he has allocated for research on behalf of small arable farmers and growers who feel that the five major supermarkets in this country are using their dominant position to repress the prices of horticultural products to the detriment of farmers, with a particular view to referring the results to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for consideration?

Mr. Gummer : I am not sure whether that would be a proper use of our research money. If my hon. Friend is concerned about particular points, I shall certainly look at them and see whether action is required.

Mr. Robert Hughes : Will the Minister conduct an urgent inquiry into the widespread use of the flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate? Clear evidence is now coming forward that it produces severe allergies in people who eat meat pies and processed foods as well as in those who eat in restaurants. Is the Minister aware that the symptoms not only include the condition described earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) but can lead to severe dizziness and loss of memory? This matter is now reaching proportions which must be urgently investigated, and I hope that that will be done.

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Mr. Gummer : I am sure that, if there is any concern about this matter, we can ask the committee on toxicity to look at it. I am very ready to take any information that the hon. Gentleman or anyone else has on this matter. The way in which we operate is to take all information and look at it immediately. I ask the hon. Gentleman to let me know.

British Coal (Waste Dumping)

7. Mr. Holt : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will reconsider the practice of issuing licences to British Coal permitting the dumping of waste products on beaches on the north-east coast ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Curry : British Coal has been told that no licence for the dumping of minestone on beaches will be issued after June 1995 unless it can show that there is absolutely no viable alternative.

Mr. Holt : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will, of course, have read carefully the Government's recent White Paper on the environment, and he will also have studied the paper put out by the Labour party. He will have noticed that, despite its claims to having specific details, the Labour party has nowhere stated how it will deal with the problem in the north-east of England. Will my hon. Friend accept that although the Government appear to have a five-year commitment, my hon. Friend's statement is loose and open-ended and does not commend itself to the people of the north-east of England? We want the Government not merely to state that they might elongate the period but to shorten it to three years, two years, or even one year. The problem can be resolved by British Coal without detriment to the environment and it is time that the Government did something solid about the issue.

Mr. Curry : That was precisely the purpose of my decision. British Coal has to find an alternative, get it through the planning procedures and then implement it. I want to make sure that local people and local bodies are involved in that process through the planning decision. That takes a certain amount of time. It is better to get the right solution than to force British Coal to act so quickly that it has a plausible claim that it has not been given adequate time to do the job.

That illustrates precisely that environmental problems are not easy. We have a choice between dumping waste on the beach, in the sea or down a hole, or building a tip, none of which is an easy option--showing, if I may so put it, that green issues are not black and white.

Mr. Cummings : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) for raising this vexatious problem. Is the Minister aware that four collieries remain in my constituency in Durham and provide about 6,000 much -needed jobs? Is the Minister aware also that those four collieries have contributed substantially to the overall performance of British Coal? If the Minister intends to review licences in future, will he ensure that there is close liaison between himself and the Department of Energy so that no further extra costs fall on British Coal and perhaps jeopardise pits, jobs and communities in the north-east?

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Mr. Curry : I of course recognise that the hon. Gentleman is deeply concerned because of his constituents' interest in the matter. The Department of Energy was associated with my decision. We observe the principle that the polluter pays and British Coal must therefore bear the costs of the exercise. British Coal must also decide the future of those pits on their merits ; that is not for my Department. The object is to address a difficult dilemma and to address the issue that has been highlighted as being central, which is the fact that it is no longer desirable or acceptable to put waste on the beaches or out at sea, as I said earlier. I shall certainly keep the hon. Gentleman informed of developments, because I recognise his interest in the matter.

Free Food

8. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the further distribution of European Economic Community free food in 1990.

Mr. Curry : Distributions of butter and beef by more than 400 designated organisations are now getting underway.

Mr. Cryer : Is the Minister aware that hundreds of pensioners in my constituency, in Bradford generally and elsewhere feel humiliated and angry that they have queued, often for more than an hour at a time, to try to obtain free butter or free meat only to find that because they are not on family credit or income support, they are refused it? As, in a letter to me, the Minister relied on European legislation as being the culprit, will the Government stand up to the Common Market if those are its stringent rules or are the Government hiding under the cloak of EEC legislation? As we have paid more than £14 billion to the Common Market since 1980 is not it time that the Government stood up to the Common Market and allowed people, many of whom fought in the war for this country, to have part of this free handout?

Mr. Curry : If 3,000 tonnes of beef and 3,000 tonnes of butter were distributed among all pensioners, they would get precious little each. Furthermore, a certain number of pensioners might be sufficiently well off not to need that--some of them might be Members of the House.

Mr. Latham : Is not there something absolutely asinine about a situation in which farmers are now experiencing extremely difficult conditions, but we apparently have surpluses that can be given away free?

Mr. Curry : It is true that the sensible approach to the problem is to ensure that we bring our production closer to demand and our costs closer to the marketplace, and that is the policy we have pursued. We have always objected to the scheme because it seems a particularly inefficient way of tackling the problem. If one does not identify the problem correctly, which is to get the pricing structure right, how can one reach the right solution?

Mr. Mallon : Is the Minister aware of the great disappointment and distress felt in areas of high unemployment such as Northern Ireland because of the restrictive nature of the entitlement to EC free food? Will he assure the House that he will do all in his power to change that, so that those who are technically not on

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income support or any other benefit do not lose out on the benefit of free EC food to which they should be entitled and of which they are in great need?

Mr. Curry : I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we shall do our best to ensure that those who are entitled to the free food have access to it. That is why the number of organisations involved has more than tripled this year to more than 400. However, I am not prepared to say that the scheme should be opened more generally to all pensioners, because that would be grotesquely inefficient. It seems plain common sense that the free food should be directed to those who are most in need and we shall seek to maintain that that is the case if we have to maintain the scheme at all, which I profoundly hope that we shall not.

Mr. Knapman : Have there been any distributions of surplus free food in socialist countries?

Mr. Curry : I understand that certain countries in the European Community that would describe themselves as Social Democratic have done so. However, the problem in eastern Europe is the queues of people trying to get into the supermarkets, not the queues of people trying to get out.

Animal Welfare

10. Mr. Moss : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what initiatives he has taken to improve animal welfare throughout the European Community.

Mr. Gummer : I am pressing for the adoption of comprehensive Community rules setting high welfare standards for animals on farms, during transport and at slaughter.

Mr. Moss : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the positive lead that he is taking on this issue in the European Community. Does he agree with the vast majority of the British public that the conduct of some French farmers of late is entirely unacceptable? Will he take action to ensure that our high standards on animal welfare, particularly on the live transportation of animals, become the benchmark of any future European Community legislation?

Mr. Gummer : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that he will be pleased to know that I have received further assurances from the French Government about the continuance of cases against people who indulge in those appalling acts. I am sure that he would also want us to raise our standards in those few areas in which we do not reach the highest, and then ensure that the whole of Europe continues to improve its standards, as it ought, as intra-Community trade increases.

Mr. Dalyell : Will the Minister have a word with the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) and the right hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) about what is happening on Islay and the way in which, for commercial reasons, A and C Sporting Services is apparently being allowed to conduct the slaughter of the rare white-fronted Greenland goose? It is a European scandal.

Mr. Gummer : I am responsible for many things, but the white-fronted Greenland goose is not one of them. I am perfectly happy to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary

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of State for the Environment to look into the matter. In so far as it is my responsibility or that of the Secretary of State for Scotland, I shall see that attention is drawn to the hon. Gentleman's remarks at once.

Dame Janet Fookes : What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that there are adequate numbers of inspectors and adequate enforcement procedures, without which the welfare regulations will not be worth the paper on which they are written?

Mr. Gummer : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not possible to have effective welfare regulations unless they are properly enforced. One thing that we seek to do in the European Community is to ensure that countries that claim to meet high standards can show that they are doing so by having proper inspectors and proper enforcement. Indeed, we are having discussions with the Commission about several countries. We shall make sure that at the end of them we are much happier about enforcement of the present rules in those countries. We also want to improve the rules considerably.

Mr. Skinner : Is it true that the Minister is looking into the possibility of sending a fact-finding tour of Members of Parliament to Greenland in the winter to look after the Greenland goose? Or is it that he cannot find enough people because they are all on fact-finding tours between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn? Why does not he send one there instead?

Mr. Gummer : I am not sure that a fact-finding tour in Greenland would be helpful on this occasion. I promise the hon. Gentleman that if I send a tour to Greenland, he will have first option for a place on it and it will be at a time of year to suit his convenience and personal bodily comfort.

Dairy Industry

11. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received concerning the impact of the single European market on the United Kingdom dairy industry.

Mr. Curry : I have received representations from a wide range of organisations covering issues such as possible changes to the milk marketing arrangements, the future operation of the milk quota system, and the Commission's proposals for Communitywide milk hygiene standards.

Mr. Evennett : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply on that point. Could he comment further on the future of the Milk Marketing Board after 1992?

Mr. Curry : The Milk Marketing Board started the debate about its future because it believes that the present system is unsatisfactory. The Government have never concealed that they believe that a statutory monopoly, which is locked into a negotiating structure with a single buying organisation, no longer serves the best interests of farmers, consumers or the ability of the dairy trade to compete in the wider European market. An increasing number of people echo that. The formula must be sorted out by the Milk Marketing Board itself.

Mr. Geraint Howells : When the Minister discussed the European single market, what representations were made to him that the agriculture industry is going through the

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worst recession since the war? Can he confirm or deny that his Government are backing a 30 per cent. cut in the support system for agriculture? If they are, why are they hell bent on destroying the agriculture industry, which has helped consumers so well over the past 50 years?

Mr. Curry : Because the Government take the clear view that, first, it is in the interests of the welfare of the whole of the Community. Secondly, it is clearly in the interests of the United Kingdom and European farmers that we should take the lead and control the negotiations rather than fail dismally to formulate proposals, as Agriculture Ministers have done recently, as that would allow those who would like to see a much more draconian attack upon our system to prevail in the negotiations. Our position is the only sensible one and the only one which properly defends the interests of our farmers and continental farmers.

Mr. Marland : As the United Kingdom has such a high standard of milk production and hygiene, can my hon. Friend assure the House that after 1992 all other European countries will be required to come up to our standards?

Mr. Curry : I can assure my hon. Friend that the proposals before us mean that countries whose current standards are not as good as our own will come up to those standards. The United Kingdom has already achieved the standards that will be demanded under those proposals.

Scottish Fishing Industry

12. Mr. Salmond : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next intends to meet representatives of the catching sector of the Scottish fishery industry ; and what assistance he is making available to that sector.

Mr. Curry : My noble Friend the Minister responsible for Scottish agriculture and fisheries regularly meets the Scottish fishing industry. I shall meet its representatives if they so desire.

Mr. Salmond : If the Minister arranges such a meeting, will he attempt to explain to the industry's representatives why the Government have cancelled Export Credits Guarantee Department cover, which affects trade with the Soviet Union on the herring and mackerel fleets? Does the Minister agree that the Government look quite absurd when the Prime Minister claims at international conferences that trade with the Soviet Union should be developed while her own Departments are sabotaging the existing trade? When will the Minister start to assist the Scottish fishing industry and stop sabotaging its prospects?

Mr. Curry : The future of the ECGD is not a matter for my Department. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that what will actually happen is that the Klondiking fleets will no longer appear off British coasts. It is not so much a problem of ECGD cover, but the obsolescence and the necessary radical restructuring of the fleets of eastern Europe after a generation of wholly inefficient socialist governments.

Dame Peggy Fenner : Is my hon. Friend aware that some discontent has been expressed at the achievements in the activities of the sea fishing industry? Does he believe that if achievements in those activities cannot be realised, it is time to reconsider the levy system?

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Mr. Curry : I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that the Sea Fish Industry Authority has submitted proposals for an increase in the levy. Before I take any decision on that, I shall review carefully the industry's opinion expressed to me. I shall want to be satisfied that the Sea Fish Industry Authority has a clear idea about what it exists to do and that it is acting efficiently.

Livestock Exports

13. Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the numbers of livestock being exported live from the United Kingdom.

Mr. Maclean : The following figures cover exports from the United Kingdom of farm livestock and horses for all purposes during the period January to August 1990 inclusive : cattle 175,975 ; sheep 295, 928 ; pigs 79,114 ; goats 107 and horses 3,845.

Mr. Davies : Will the Minister confirm that under article 36 of the treaty of Rome he is empowered to take steps to stop the export of live animals from this country if he is satisfied that that action is necessary to protect the health and life of those animals? Given the shocking scenes that we have seen of brutal mistreatment of British animals by rioting French farmers, is not it time that he took steps to bring the international trade in live animals to a halt?

Mr. Maclean : The hon. Gentleman should be aware that that matter is subject to judicial review today in the High Court. I cannot comment further on it.

Mr. Moate : Does my hon. Friend expect to see those figures increased one day by the export of live horses for slaughter and consumption on the continent, or is he confident that we have the power to stop those new European regulations coming into effect?

Mr. Maclean : Like everyone in the House, we sincerely hope not. We have had some extremely tough negotiations on the matter and we have made it plain that we support the minimum values principles, which are very good rules and have stood us in long stead. We shall continue fighting so that British horses are not exported live for slaughter and human consumption on the continent.

Eastern Europe

15. Mr. Burt : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what help his Department has given to farmers in eastern Europe.

Mr. Gummer : I have undertaken a series of visits to east and central European countries and have taken other initiatives to promote United Kingdom trade co-operation on the transfer of appropriate technology.

Mr. Burt : I am delighted to learn of the extent of help that we are giving. Bearing in mind the track record of socialist agriculture, does my right hon. Friend agree that the best advice that this country can give is to echo the words of the new Polish Member of Parliament who is the chairman of that country's privatisation committee and who said in this country last week that socialism cannot be improved but must be removed?

Mr. Gummer : Anybody who thinks that centralised control, direction by the state and the fixing of norms, all

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of which are policies upheld by the Labour party in this country, do any good had better try to get a square meal in any of the eastern European countries.



Q1. Mr. Butterfill : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 October.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Butterfill : Has my right hon. Friend found time in her busy day today to read the report of the Audit Commission on managing sickness absence in London? If so, does she share my concern that socialist authorities in London are tolerating sickness absence of two and a half times the average in local authorities elsewhere and that that is costing their community charge payers an estimated £27 a head?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I have seen the Audit Commission's report and have noted what my hon. Friend said, that is, that absentee levels in certain local authorities are nearly three times those in private industry and that some of those local authorities are not even aware of what the absentee levels are, let alone able to take any action about it. That is grossly unfair to the charge payer and once more proves that Labour authorities are totally inadequate from the point of view of financial control.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister make it clear to everyone today that she is completely against vouchers for schooling?

The Prime Minister : We have an introduction of vouchers for training. That is very good because it increases choice. In education we are attempting to increase choice--in city technology colleges, in grant- maintained schools and with open rolls. Of course, local authorities are against choice. They want central controls. They do not want opportunity, and that is why the right hon. Gentleman is against choice and against vouchers anywhere.

Mr. Kinnock : Even though the right hon. Lady is trying to evade, it is obvious from what she said last week and from what she just said that she is in favour of vouchers for schooling. The Prime Minister is a crank-- [Interruption.] Is not it obvious to her that every examination ever undertaken into vouchers, including that done by her noble Friend Lord Joseph, has concluded that vouchers are an expensive, bureaucratic, divisive system entirely irrelevant to the real needs of schooling?

The Prime Minister : Nonsense-- [Interruption.] Nonsense. They are one, and only one, method of what we are already operating ; the money follows the pupil. That is a form of giving extra choice and of giving the voucher to the parent for the pupil. Of course the right hon. Gentleman hates it. He wants total central control of education through socialist, Labour authorities that hold money back from locally managed schools. Of course he

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hates choice. Of course he hates higher standards. Of course he hates opportunity. He is socialist--a crypto- communist.


Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : It is a long time since we had quite such a tantrum from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time. Everyone knows that the British education system is now more centralised than it has ever been. Everyone also knows that the Prime Minister has spent the past 11 years making a complete mess of education. Why does she not now start concentrating on the things that need to be done to help education, and stop chasing after the things that can only hurt education?

The Prime Minister : On the contrary, with city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools and locally managed schools we are totally and utterly decentralising power and responsibility away from the local education authorities to the parents. That is what the right hon. Gentleman objects to. In the meantime, let me point out to him that, during the stewardship of the Conservative Government, expenditure per pupil in education has increased from £515 to £1, 360--an increase of 41 per cent. According to an OECD report quoted in The Sunday Times last week, when it comes to the percentage of our national income per head spent on education, Britain has a higher percentage than the United States, Japan or Germany.

Q2. Mr. Burt : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Burt : Bearing in mind the previous exchange, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has seen news reports today about a head teacher who describes himself as

"a former knee-jerk anti-Tory"

chap, and who now runs a successful grant-maintained school in the north of England that takes its pupils from nearby council estates. Does she believe that the aspirations of those parents and children will be fulfilled by any big idea that threatens to destroy their choice and opportunity in grant- maintained schools?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend, as usual, is absolutely spot on. The money goes directly to the grant-maintained schools--into the classroom and not into the local education authority administration. Head teachers of grant-maintained schools find them extremely good. There have been a number of comments about them recently--the head of Bankfield school in Cheshire, for instance, has said :

"18 months ago I had serious reservations about the applications for grant- maintained status--not now. For me seeing and experiencing has been believing."

Another in Northampton said-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister is answering a question.

The Prime Minister : Another head teacher, from Hendon, said : "We have more time to deal with educational issues as opposed to administration and coping with bureaucracy."

That is another example of a head teacher satisfied with a grant-maintained school. A third said :

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"We are finding it easier to recruit staff."

Of course the right hon. Gentleman does not like that, because it means more staff and less bureaucracy ; however, the schools are good.

Mr. Ashdown : Given the Prime Minister's previous answers, why does she disagree with her own Secretary of State for Education and Science, who said over the weekend that he felt that the introduction of education vouchers would be an unnecessary distraction from the real task--putting right what was wrong with Britain's failing education system?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is sitting next to me, and disagrees totally with the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of what he said. Had the right hon. Gentleman listened to what I said earlier, he would have realised that city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools and, to some extent, open enrolment are a form of choice for parents. If we add to that the money following the pupil, it is virtually a voucher system.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of inviting in the head of Twyford high school in Ealing, Hazel Hardy, the head of Lilian Baylis school in Waterloo and Peter Dawson, who used to be the headmaster of Eltham Green school in my constituency and get them to explain how it is that, with the opportunity of attracting pupils to their schools, they have managed to make the schools attractive to ethnic minorities and poor families and to provide the type of education that the Leader of the Opposition received in Wales? More families at the bottom need choice, and with my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Education and Science, we expect to see more of it.

The Prime Minister : I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Choice is for the overwhelming majority of those who go to the public system of education. That is why we are extending it. That is why we have grant- maintained schools, which are independent state schools and that is why we are giving more choice to parents, knowing full well that they will use it to go to the school that offers the highest standards of education. More choice means better standards and more opportunity.

Q3. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Winnick : Can the Prime Minister give any explanation why the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) remains convinced that it was the Foreign Secretary who suggested that he make the visit to Iraq, although I am aware that the latter has strongly denied that? What is the Prime Minister's own view about the forthcoming trip, bearing it in mind that, we hope, some sick and elderly British hostages will be released --people who should never have been taken hostage in the first place? Indeed, no one should have been taken hostage.

The Prime Minister : Of course people should never have been taken hostage in the first place. That is why we are all at one in the House in insisting that the United Nations resolutions must be upheld, and insisting that every day that the hostages are held is a fresh offence and

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act of war. As far as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) is concerned, he will make his own best judgments. If he decides to visit Iraq, or any other country, he will of course be given the normal courtesies. Similar facilities were available for those Opposition Members who visited Iraq recently.

Q5. Mr. Marland : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 October.

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